Podcast 27 min

How Remote does remote, with Filipa Matos and Ben Marks

January 11, 2024
Preston Wickersham


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For the series finale of Off Mute, we’re sharing our very own secrets. Yes, this episode is all about how we do remote at Remote! Plus, some special information about our work with the Future Workforce Alliance.

Barbara Matthews is not only the host of this podcast but also our Chief People Officer. She is joined by Filipa Matos, VP Special Operations, who started at Remote in 2020 as employee number eight. Filipa tells us about her personal journey, from the early days starting up in Portugal to leading special projects at Remote today. Barbara and Filipa even share the secrets of how we use our own global HR product to grow and manage our international teams.

In part two, Barbara and Filipa are joined by Ben Marks. Together, Ben and Filipa have created the Future Workforce Alliance (FWA), which offers guidance to employers who are adapting to rapidly changing environments.

Finally, we look back over the series at all our wonderful guests, examining what we’ve learned about life and leadership on a distributed team. 

We have loved bringing this series to you. In each and every episode, we’ve endeavoured to bring you into a different part of life as a distributed team. Enjoy the final episode of this series!

Episode transcript and introducing Filipa

Barbara: Hi, I am Barbara Matthews, the Chief People Officer at Remote and this is Off Mute, the podcast that explores managing distributed teams all across the globe.

This episode is a little different as we're going to be looking at ourselves, I'll be joined by Filipa Matos, the VP of Special Operations and one of the longest-serving employees at Remote to talk all about us: how we operate as a distributed team and how we try out all our advice on ourselves before sharing with customers. We talk about our special projects and how we envision the future of the distributed team.

And joining me and Filipa for part two will be Ben Marks. Together Filipa and Ben founded the Future Workforce Alliance, and they will share with us its charter, how it can assist you with your digital wellbeing and mental health, and how you can join.

Then in the last part we'll be taking a little look back at the series of Off Mute by sharing some key special moments and learnings from our guests.

Hey Filipa, thank you for taking the time to be with me today. Delighted we have one of our own in the hot seat. So, why don't we start with what Remote does and pretend you're explaining it to my grandmother.

Filipa: Thank you for having me, Barbara. Actually, I had to do that exercise with my own grandmother, because for her, it was very, very, let's say confusing to say that I was working for a lot of different countries, establishing right at the beginning a lot of different entities from my own desk.

So, I had to explain it like this: so, part of my family is from India. So, I said, “Grandmother, imagine that I'm living in Goa, and I want to work for a company in Portugal. So, what Remote does is exactly enabling that. So, I could be living in Goa in India and working for a company in Portugal.” And she was like, “Really? How come that is possible, but you're not there?”

And I said, “Yes.” It's like that's the beauty of it. We are enabling everyone everywhere to take their dream job without having to move. And she was like, “Oh, I wish there was something like that back in my days.” So, that was really nice. So, I had to do that exact exercise with my grandmother.

Barbara: I love that. And that's so simple, that's so simple. Tell our listeners, how many years have you been with Remote? How many people were here when you started, all of that?

Filipa: Well, I've been at Remote for the past four years, and I am employee number eight. So, I'm part of the first 10. Yes.

Barbara: The full OG, I love it.

Filipa: Yeah, and it's been such an amazing journey for me, like at all levels. Not only from a growth perspective, but also, exposing me to different levels of growth within the same organisation, different opportunities from a career perspective.

But also, when I started, we used to talk a lot about these revolutions that we were up to create. And when I look back now, I really feel that we are living that revolution because this was just a concept when I started.

Barbara: And reminder for everyone, this was before COVID, right Filipa? So, remote working was very, very rare at the time.

Filipa: Yes, at the time, it was just something really strange for people. That's why I had to explain to my grandmother that I would be working from my home. I'm very proud and honoured to have been part of this journey so far.

Barbara: And Filipa, the concepts or the image that I always have in my head with startups is lots of people crammed in what's usually someone's garage or their mother's garage or something.

Tell me how this startup happened when you were all remote. Like how did you meet each other? How did you get to work together?

Filipa: So, it was kind of a fun story I would say. I used to work with Marcelo, one of the co-founders in one of my previous companies, and suddenly, out of nowhere, I received a message from Marcelo saying, “Hey, I'm building this, and I would love for you to come and join us.”

So, I got really curious about it, and I met Job. We spoke a little bit about these really interesting ideas of setting up entities all over the globe, enabling opportunities for everyone, and all of that sounds so magical to be honest. And I said, “Well, I want to be part of it, so let's do it, let's go.”

And back then, we were just a few — everyone was based out of Portugal in different cities, and I still remember those days, those first few months before the pandemic where we would select a city and we would all travel to that same city and just spend the day together. That was really, really cool.

Barbara: When you joined, it was an employer of record company. The company obviously has undergone a huge transformation and transition to one that is a full-scale HR platform today. Tell us about the experience and the transition that we're going through right now.

Filipa: I like to put it in this way: Remote is not about one product, it's about a mission. Since our first day, we were about enabling work from anywhere to everyone. And due to that, it became limited for us to be just focused on one particular product, and therefore, we wanted to evolve, and we wanted to answer to all needs of fully distributed organisations.

So, we've expanded our products to become this amazing HR platform that 's serving all needs from A to Z.

Barbara: And you've obviously had a few different roles and you've talked about your own growth and career development here, but you're now the VP of special operations here at Remote. Can you tell us a little bit more about the role that you do?

Filipa: Special operations is, I would say, a 50/50 type of role. So, the first 50% of this role is very focused on innovative projects. So, very strategic projects, internal projects, creating new revenue streams, innovating basically when it comes to our offerings.

So, thinking about Remote in 10 days from now, always being in the future with a step into the future.

And the other 50% of the role is to support and advise governments and organisations around the globe when it comes to shaping the future of work. So, making sure that we are all together building a better and inclusive future of work for everyone.

Barbara: Love that. So interesting as well, like it's a real mix of work that you do internally and externally. That's what keeps you here I suppose.

Filipa: Oh yes. Oh, for sure, for sure.

What do you need to grow across borders confidently?

Barbara: So, Filipa employee number eight and now we're a company of well over 1,200 employees. Tell me a little bit about what has been, I guess most notable or noticeable to you as the company has scaled around you.

Filipa: Scale is actually what is the most astonishing thing that I've been observing at Remote, is thinking about those early days when we were just a group of 10 people working on this idea, on this mission, and now, we are over a thousand. And I think what's been very interesting is being able to experiment exactly what we are offering to our clients.

So, there was not a day when Remote did not use its own capabilities to support our own team, fully distributed in all of these different countries around the globe, so we could better understand the needs of our customers, so we could offer a better customer experience.

So, all of our own services are also used by us internally. That's been really interesting to see because it's not very common but it's for sure what makes us so aware of what the different organisations are going through.

Barbara: Yeah, and actually it's one of my favourite things about the company, having worked in HR for 20 plus years and worked with disparate tools, really terrible tools, tools that didn't talk to each other, and being able to work with the product team to build kind of this one platform is actually super rewarding for me personally as well, which I love.

What works best in your head when you think about all the different services that we offer, that we have dogfooded as you said. What works best for such a large, distributed team?

Filipa: I would say that everything. Everything is the answer here. I think we cannot fit into the same box, different organisations. Different organisations will have different needs and I think by offering services that pay a contractor or actually, to promote a given position, given job to get candidates and going through everything until paying someone, taking care of their benefits, understanding what's the total rewards policy that you want to have in place.

Like all of these multiple opportunities that organisations can explore through our platform is absolutely incredible. I say this because I wish I had Remote back in those days when I was an HR leader. It would have helped me so much. Saved me so much time, and actually I think being able to retain, attract the right talent.

Because by the end of the day I heard a client saying this and I never forgot about it, is, “Companies are enabled by Remote to focus on getting the best talent, because the rest, Remote will take care of it.” So, they don't need to worry about those things anymore. Just getting the right talent.

Barbara: Yeah, we take the worry, take the admin, take all of that away from them so they can just build their business. Yeah, it's great.

So, we at Remote operate under the belief and it's our internal mantra as well, that talent is everywhere, but opportunities are not. And so, we are trying to make it possible for people to be hired wherever they are in the world.

Is there a specific use case in mind which best describes how Remote has best served a client?

Filipa: I remember this one specific situation that happened in Kenya, and it was a unique situation where this client found this amazing talent that they wanted to hire. But there was like this ethnicity challenge I would say around hiring someone based out of Kenya, and making sure that they would have everything in place going from employment contract to payroll taken care of, and taxes, and benefits and whatnot.

It was so rewarding by the end of the day to hear from the candidate directly that they were able to take their job, but still be around to support their grandmother. And that was really good not only to hear from the employee’s side, but also the organisation that was feeling so happy because they got exactly the candidate that they wanted. So, I think this is just one of the many examples that I keep on my mind.

Why does Remote’s approach to remote work so well?

Barbara: It's really wonderful and people can stay in their communities and stay in the world they grew up in, and yet still get the benefit of international and global reach and global jobs. It's wonderful.

Actually, working for a company like that, doing those types of things really helps you sleep better at night than working for other types of places.

So, tell me, what is the benefit of using Remote, to employ your team over say, employing a freelancer somewhere in the world?

Filipa: Well, I would say that it's like not having to worry about the specifics that are in the country. Because by the end of the day, all organisations, they want to make sure that they are offering an employment agreement, that it's compliant, that it offers everything that it's market standard. So, it's the best practice that you can find in that market.

All of those things I would say really pays off to be surrounded by a group of experts. And we have experts in all of these countries that we support. They can advise companies on what to do, what we cannot do in a given country.

So, all of this, it's such an important, I would say asset for a company when looking to expand their talent pool, and find really good talent on a global level. So, I would say, the main benefit is to have access to these groups of experts from payroll to benefits because it's so interesting.

What we know for a fact, that its super valuable benefit in a given country may not be as relevant in another country. And knowing those specifics can make the difference from accepting or denying an offer from a candidate perspective, right? So, I think that's really it.

Barbara: So, Remote, asynchronous work, work-life balance, freedom, et cetera — I personally have really valued that since I started here in May. My kids probably not so much because I'm now able to say, “Eat your carrots, eat your broccoli” and I'm annoying them at dinner, but I like it.

So, looking to the future, we believe that our service enables businesses to offer people a better working life based around balance and freedom. Can you talk more about how this works Filipa, maybe if you've seen it evolve over the four to five years that we have been around.

Filipa: When we look at freedom and remote work, we experience different levels of freedom or different types of freedom, I would say. It's flexible working schedule. Like when you have a sick kid at home, you need to take care of them during the day, but as soon as they go to sleep, maybe if you want to, you can jump and take care of your responsibilities. I've been experiencing that myself and that is very, very important to me.

And also, when you are sick. But you're not sick at a point, like for instance, “Oh, I'm not feeling so well in the morning so I can catch up in the afternoon on my work and do whatever I need to do.” That's really good. So, from a working schedule, flexibility, I would say that's one of the most important forms of freedom that remote work enables.

And then also, the location. I must say that I've been leaving that dream myself because I used to work and live, and I grew up in Lisbon in the city centre, and after two years of working at Remote, I was like, “Why am I still here? Like I really enjoy nature, I want to live in the middle of the mountains.” So, I moved, and I live in the middle of the mountains.

Recently, I found a very old friend of mine, and I said, “Do you remember those times when I said that I would love to live in the middle of the mountains? Yeah, now I am.” Which is really good, it's amazing.

So, in terms of location, I think it's also another form of freedom. But the one that I love the most, and I think it makes total difference by the end of the day and makes you wake up with a smile for being part of such an organisation that enables these types of things, is inclusivity and accessibility.

That's a very important form of freedom, is when you are not limited, and the job opportunities that you take. Remote work enables inclusivity and people with disabilities before a different number of opportunities and that's really important.

The Future Workforce Alliance

Barbara: Now, let's delve into the innovative world of the Future Workforce Alliance, commonly known as the FWA.

Co-founded by Filipa and Ben Marks, the FWA is not just an organisation, it's a movement. With their diverse backgrounds, Filipa and Ben have pioneered the FWA as a consortium of leaders and shapers committed to a more fair, healthy, and inclusive future of work.

The digital transformation of workplaces has brought unprecedented challenges and here is where FWA steps in. They offer tangible, practical guidance to employers who are adapting to these rapid changes. So, just imagine a world where digital fluency and mental wellbeing go hand in hand.

The Alliance has proudly garnered the support of 33 members of the European Parliament, which represents a significant leap towards potential policy changes in the future, increased visibility for mental health issues in the workplace, and a wider acceptance of digital transformation challenges.

Filipa is still with us, but now I'm being joined by Ben Marks. It's great to have you with us, Ben. If it's possible, can you just introduce yourself to the listeners?

Ben: Hello, I'm Ben. I am an activist, campaigner, and social entrepreneur around the future of work and digital safety. I'm the founder and CEO of the #WorkAnywhereCampaign, which is a global advocacy movement around flexible work practices.

And I'm also the co-founder along with Filipa, my partner in crime, of the Future Workforce Alliance.

Barbara: So, Ben, I've just told the listeners about the Future Workforce Alliance, but could you give us a deeper insight into what the Future Workforce Alliance really is?

Specifically, could you elaborate on the core mission and how it's uniquely positioned to assist businesses in navigating the challenges of the digital era and the associated mental health concerns?

Ben: Sure. So, the FWA is a platform to accelerate the development and adoption of solutions for a more prosperous, healthy, and inclusive future of work. And a big part of that is we're bringing together an exciting community of leaders, policymakers, academics, who all share this common vision for what the future of work can and should be.

And so, we are now preparing a number of campaigns, initiatives, and research projects that serve this goal around themes like AI and health.

Barbara: And Filipa, we've talked about the Future Workforce Alliance and its significant backing from members of the European Parliament. This brings to mind the European Charter for Digital Wellbeing. Can you elaborate on what this charter entails and how it aligns with the broader objectives of the Future Workforce Alliance?

Filipa: Of course. The European Charter for Digital Wellbeing is our first big leap into policymaking with the Future Workforce Alliance. Think of it as our initial step into coming to terms with the complexities and opportunities of this digital era.

So, what we've wanted to achieve with this initiative is a way to protect, protecting everyone that is part of the workforce, being it employees, being it organisations, by providing them complete guidelines in how to make sure that we are prioritising digital know-how at the same time that we are taking care of mental health.

So, this was very important and quite an exciting journey for us and for everyone involved due to the fact that there is a lot of appetite from public policymakers when it comes to this topic.

So, it's very important that we all come together, as Ben mentioned, like everyone from academia to private sector, public policymakers, employees, everyone, that can contribute to this discussion, making sure that while we are keep on growing our economies, but also finding this very nice place between life and work, and also making sure that we are taking care of ourselves and each other.

So, if we look particularly at this initiative and this document or this charter, this is just the first of many policy initiatives that we are working towards. So, this first one happened in Europe, but we are working on several other initiatives across the globe in different regions.

And the good thing about this one is that it got the attention of several public policymakers around the globe, and they wanted to learn more about how we could do something similar in their regions.

And we're talking about from the Americas to APAC. So, it's very interesting to know that there is this awareness and this urge to make sure that legislation is dynamic enough to keep up with the reality.

And I think that what is very interesting if we take a look at the charter is that it's based on four pillars, and the design is not by chance. It's because we want to make sure that we are covering all essential aspects. We need to guarantee that it's in place when it comes to the digital era in these digital workspaces, aligned with mental health protection and care.

Barbara: Okay. Yes, I've got it. So, it's built on four fundamental pillars. Can you walk us through these pillars and explain how each of them contributes to the overall vision of promoting digital wellbeing and mental health in the workforce?

Ben: So, these four pillars have been identified in collaboration with a number of stakeholders and our partners from the world of academia and business to, as Filipa was saying, with the broad goal of really beginning the process of modernising Europe's approach to workforce mental health, given these rising digital working and flexible working.

The first pillar is called Life Beyond Work, and that's really about creating the conditions that allow for a healthy life work balance.

The second pillar is Social Connection. And amongst other things we are calling for increasing access to coworking spaces because they are time and time again coming up in our research as a viable solution.

We actually delivered the first ever study into workplace loneliness that took into account data from non-home remote work environments, and we found that coworking spaces were significantly more socially fulfilling than home and even offices.

So, to everyone that's calling for a widespread return to office, appealing to the dangers of loneliness and isolation, which are of course, a serious concern from a public health perspective. According to our data, that actually wouldn't be the best move, it's not a data-driven solution.

The third pillar is Privacy & Trust. Now, why is that important? Well, since the beginning of the pandemic, we've seen the frankly terrifying rise in the use of digital surveillance technologies, and beyond being an infringement on workers' privacy, the mental health consequences of this can be catastrophic.

So, just to give you the idea of one study, research was delivered last year that found that one in three workers reported that their mental health had been significantly impacted for the worse on account of being surveilled. That's why we and the signers of this charter from across the political parties in Europe are calling for the restriction or if not full banning of these tools.

And the final pillar is digital wellness, let's say the thread that runs through all of these topics. And this is a bit of a project, but what we're really aiming to do here is establish the first ever legal definition for what constitutes a healthy relationship with technology in the workplace — that would really create the foundations upon which the next generation of solutions can be created.

And as Filipa said, whilst this is looking at the European Union, that's because it's a historically very progressive environment for solutions around workforce issues. This is something that really needs to be applied to every country in the world because of course, the issue of workers' health and the digital age is a global issue.

Barbara: If any of our listeners are inspired, and I bet you are, I’m thinking I want to be part of this movement. How can they sign up or get involved with the Future Workforce Alliance?

Filipa: Well, if someone is thinking about joining FWA, it's super easy. So, you can go and visit our website or look for our LinkedIn page, and you will find more about the different initiatives that we have and the way to get involved.

So, maybe the easiest way to start is to participate in one of our webinars. You can have a look at our latest one, which was a round table with people from academia, from the private sector, politicians, and also journalists. So, it was quite an interesting one, and you can get really good insights from there. And it was all about modernising these workspaces according to this digital era.

So, you'll find really interesting insights around loneliness, life work, integration, or separation, all of this awareness from politicians when it comes to these topics and the protection that it's needed for both employees and employers. So, you'll get a lot of interesting information from that specific one, but also, you'll see the dates for the next one so you can participate in those.

And if you are part or a representative of an organisation, you will also find a way to reach out to us and become a member of FWA. These are the two current avenues that we have for you to get involved, but we are expanding these options, and you will get to learn everything about these updates and news on our website and LinkedIn page.

Barbara: And Ben, could you share with us any upcoming initiatives, events, or projects that the Alliance has in the pipeline?

Ben: Yeah, so the key thing is expanding this work all across the world. But in addition to our work around health and wellbeing, there are two things to look out for. The first thing is the launch of our AI program, which is happening imminently.

And then we have something in the works that's really exciting and we can't give all the details right now, but we are actually planning a global partnership with a big media company, which will involve an event at some point next year where we bring together people from our network and other politicians and leaders to discuss these issues.

Barbara: That's so great. Thank you both for being with us.

Looking back at Off Mute

Barbara: I'm sad to say that this is the last episode in this series of Off Mute. It's been a real pleasure to bring this series to you with a glimpse into how the people around us all work and succeed every day.

Over the series, we've touched upon the legal implications, which surround a fully distributed team extending to those who choose to be digital nomads and what legal provision needs to be catered for.

We've spoken about hiring people who've become displaced, equity and flexibility with female leadership, all alongside employee centred growth and building successful ecosystems and adopting new tools such as artificial intelligence.

Despite the different backgrounds and approaches from all the guests, the one thing they can all agree upon is how important culture is for achieving a welcoming team who can lead and drive together towards achieving success.

Let's take a listen back to Joris Luijke explaining what culture is.

Joris: What is culture, right? It's basically people behaving in a certain way the majority of the time. If two thirds of your team has lunch together on a Friday, two thirds of the time, you probably have a culture of having lunch together on Fridays.

If you want to change culture, you have to change the behaviour of people. And if you do that in a consistent way, then you form culture. And that's really hard to do.

Barbara: Ze’ev Rozov in his episode spoke about authenticity.

Ze’ev: So, you need to figure out what is authentic, because if you try building a culture that is not authentic to the way people operate, it's never going to succeed.

You need to support flexibility. You need to help maintain, build that culture that engages with employees regardless who they are, where they are, how you onboard them, how you continue to enrich their experience in the company, share information with them, make them feel welcome, make them feel part of that organisation, regardless of who they are, where they are, where they're from, and where their aspirations to live down the road are going to be.

Barbara: Maria Colacurcio said about how the team came together to work towards a bigger purpose.

Maria: We have a really interesting group at our company called The Cultivators, and it's sort of this innovator combined with culture. So, we try to do what we call a day once a quarter. And we call it a day on because it's a day on in service of the community.

So, whether you are volunteering at a food bank or you're cleaning up trash in a park, it's a way to get folks together doing something that provides a purpose bigger than themselves or the company. And that kind of fosters that community.

Barbara: And Kandi Gongora told us how the Goodway Group is adopting new technologies to bring together the team.

Kandi: When we can't get together in person, if that happens, we have hybrid versions, we can get together in VR. So, we do paintball in VR or some escape rooms in VR, we can do presentations in VR. All of our employees get headsets when they start. So, that's another medium that we use for fun and for work.

Barbara: Special thanks to Filipa Matos and Ben Marks for joining me for this episode. It's been great to share more about what we do at Remote and how crucial the Future Workforce Alliance is to the future of work.

This series of Off Mute has been a real pleasure to bring to you, and I hope over the series, that we've helped to share a little further insight into what can be accomplished either being remote or as part of a distributed team.

I'm Barbara Matthews, the Chief People Officer at Remote, and thank you for listening to Off Mute from Remote. Catch you next time.

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